Being on an international student visa in the United States today has its challenges, whether you are in college or in graduate school. You may be one of many seeking to extend your F-1 status through Optical Practical Training (OPT), juggling a time-sensitive visa application with a job market that does not seem to favor immigration. Although it may feel like the odds are against you, there are ways you can make the most of your job search as an international student graduate. Consider the following tips:
- Do not underestimate the power of networking — You do not have to limit your job search to listed vacancies. Networking can be very helpful for finding jobs. Consider reaching out to professionals just to learn more about the industry you are interested in. You never know who they may know or what hidden opportunities you could come across.
- Consider applying for your visa early — As you begin interviewing with employers, it can be helpful to already have your visa in hand or even to be expecting it soon. This can be helpful if an employer asks when you will be able to start working. The sooner you have your visa in hand, the sooner you may be able to accept any offers extended to you.
- Know and understand your working rights — Many U.S. employers may not understand the various types of employment visas. They may assume that you are applying for a job without any guarantee of getting work authorization or that you may have to leave the country after only a few months of working. It is important to know that you are entitled to 12 months of work authorization through OPT so that you can confidently communicate this to employers. If you are a STEM student, you may extend your initial OPT period by 24 more months, which means you may have up to three years of work authorization.
- Know what questions employers cannot ask you — It is illegal for an employer to ask you where you are from or what your immigration status is during an interview. Know that you do not have to answer questions like these if they come up. What employers can ask, however, is whether you will require sponsorship. To answer this question, you may say that you have 12 months of work authorization, and that you will only require sponsorship after this period ends.
- Research employers who are open to hiring international students — Research the companies you are interested in to learn what their hiring policies are. Some employers are open to hiring international students, while others may have a strict policy against doing so. Knowing which employers you have a better chance of interviewing with can help you save time in your job search. Consider looking at global companies that have an international presence, as there may be an opportunity for you to transfer within the company after OPT. You can also consider contract jobs that do not exceed a one-year period. Employers offering contract jobs are less likely to be concerned with how long your work authorization lasts.
You are not alone in the fight
Seeking OPT status under the Trump Administration may seem overwhelming and unpredictable, although there are many employers who are still open to hiring qualified workers on temporary visas. Remember that there are many resources you can rely on during your job search, including your school’s career advisors, international student representatives, as well as experienced immigration attorneys.